How a Brazilian opened up racism in Australian football

Slave, black dog, dirty black, chimpanzee, monkey. The collection of racist curses was accumulated by the Brazilian and Australian Héritier Lumumba, 34, over the 11 years that he played Australian football – the country’s most popular sport, a mixture of rugby and American football – and was one of the stars of the local championship . The injuries came from the club members themselves. Most of the time, the player, born in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro, played for Colingwood, one of the main teams in the country.

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Lumumba’s denunciations blew up the club recently. An independent investigation concluded that there was systemic racism in the institution. Three days after publication, Eddie Mc Guire, an influential Australian media man and club president for more than two decades, resigned.

The Brazilian Héritier Lumumba now lives in Los Angeles, in the United States Photo: Personal Collection

But it was not easy as the paragraph above suggests. The denunciations started in 2013, when Lumumba was featured on the team and responded, on Twitter, to a joke by the club president about aborigines and the movie King Kong. He had compared a player of indigenous origins to the gorilla, saying that he would be a good option to promote the musical’s debut.

– He made that joke and nobody in the club or league said anything. It was as if nothing had happened. It was not something said by anyone on the street, it came out of the guy who is considered one of the most powerful in the country. And, for me, when you combine a position like his, of power, with racism, it is very dangerous. And the people around me treated it as if it were nothing – Lumumba, by telephone, tells GLOBO.

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The reaction to Lumumba’s action on the networks surprised him.

“It was the beginning of another degree of racism that I had to face.” People in leadership positions said that I was wrong and that I betrayed him. They tried to push me through this story that it was “mimimi” on my part. As far as I can tell, racists have the same perspectives all over the world – evaluates the former athlete, who has lawyers currently talking to Collingwood’s legal team, to assess compensation. Thanks to the episode, ignored after a short time at the time, he left the club the following year, and continued playing until December 2016.

Already retired, he returned to the topic last year, when the wave of protests from the “Black Lives Matter” movement arrived in Australia. When questioning, also via social networks, the posts of the Australian league and clubs, like Colingwood himself, asking for respect and supporting the protests, the Brazilian recalled his story. And the new moment in society triggered a wave of events in which his pain was recognized.

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With family in Brazil Photo: Personal Collection

On January 31, the “Herald Sun” newspaper leaked a report named “Do Better”, a document developed at the request of Collingwood himself, to investigate discriminatory practices within the club and, in general, in the Australian Football League ( AFL), produced by two academic teachers from 35 interviews carried out over six months, the report was categorical in diagnosing institutional racism.

“It was clear that officials, players, ex-players and fans have been experiencing incidents of racism and Collingwood’s response to those incidents was at best ineffective, or at worst, aggravated the impact of racist incidents (… ) Continued failures in this regard speak of systemic racism within the Collingwood Football Club that must be addressed if things are to change, ”said the report.

Angola and Brazil

The son of a diaspora, Lumumba crossed a long road, just like those who preceded him: escaped from the civil war that was taking place in Angola, his father came to Brazil and ended up in the Serrinha community, in Madureira. There, he met Lumumba’s mother, from Manaus, who lived in Rio. It was between the community and the Vila Isabel neighborhood that the athlete spent the first two and a half years of life, until the UN officialized the father’s situation as a refugee and offered to Australia as an asylum. The future player, mother and brother embarked a few months later.

– I am part of the first generation of people considered Afro-Australian, because, before my contemporaries, I did not have a large amount of people of African descent socializing. When I arrived, the country was opening its borders, due to UN laws – he recalls.

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By signing with Collingwood in late 2004, a week after he turned 18, he discovered, right off the bat, another way in which racism can express itself.

– In the first interview I gave, they made a story saying that I could be begging in the streets and slums. This with less than a month of signed contract. There were several forces reaching me with racial discrimination. The media, the fans, the teammates, the opponents – he says, who insisted on being interviewed for a Brazilian newspaper by a black man, and was curious about the racism episodes that the reporter had already gone through in his career. Only then, according to Lumumba, would it be possible to tell his story in the right way.

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In the years he lived in Australia – today he lives in Los Angeles, in the USA, with his family – he always returned to Brazil on vacation, but, after finishing his career, he took his Brazilian passport out of the drawer and bought a ticket just for him. going to Rio, sharing the time for a few months with Salvador, in Bahia, where he has a family.

– I have always identified myself more with my African origins than my Australian nationality, conquered by my father’s journey, fleeing a civil war, generated by imperialism, which, at heart, is racism. My story is simply a continuation of that of Africans crossing the Atlantic and arriving in Brazil. In order to feel human, I had to “backstage”, go after my culture. And I always went back to Serrinha. Anywhere in the world we have to find spaces that respect our rights and humanity.

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